I’m tired of hearing that baseball is the sport in which the coach (manager) means the least to success. Dick Williams proves this flawed belief to be absolutely false. His passing got me thinking of some of baseball’s great managers and their contributions to the game.
Who was Dick Williams you ask? Well, he was a miracle worker. Rumor has it Pope Benedict is already considering Williams for sainthood. He performed miracles in Boston, Oakland, and San Diego.
Williams put together the “Impossible Dream” season with the Red Sox in 1967. He took that team, a team that hadn’t finished better than 6th out of the 10-team American League in six years, and led them to an American League Pennant while pushing the Cardinals to the brink in the World Series.
Williams then took over an Athletics team that was so far removed from the play-offs, you’d think they were no longer in the league. The A’s hadn’t made the play-offs since they were in Philadelphia, in 1931. Williams took them over in ’71 and made the post-season. He then led them to back-to-back World Series titles in ’72 and ’73.
And then there was the Padres. No manager before or since has finished his time in San Diego with a winning record. But Dick Williams did. In 1984, Williams led the Padres to their first World Series appearance.
Williams should not have had to wait until 2008 to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. His style of managing yielded success. He took otherwise bad teams and made them good. Managers matter in baseball, and Dick Williams was important to the game.
My list of top five managers is as follows:
5. Dick Williams
My criteria may be a little different as I’m sure Dick Williams isn’t on most people’s top-five list. But his ability to take losers and turn them into winners makes him top-five in my book.
4. Sparky Anderson
Part of what makes Sparky so great was he excelled in both leagues. He took over a Reds team in 1970 that had one play-off appearance in the previous 30 years. He then promptly won the National League Pennant and went on to win 4 pennants with the Reds and 2 World Series.
With the Tigers, Sparky won One pennant, one Series, and made the play-offs twice. He finished his time in Detroit with a .516 winning percentage.
3. John McGraw
McGraw is often considered the greatest manager in baseball history. His winning percentage is unprecedented. As a symbol of a type of baseball long since gone, McGraw started as a player/manager. He won three titles and 10 pennants.
2. Connie Mack
He finished his career under .500, so how can he be number 2 on this list? I’ll tell you why. He managed one team for 50 years. No one does that. And to be honest, if you manage a team that long, you’re asking for a losing record. But Mack has the hardware. He led the Philadelphia Athetics to 9 pennants and 5 World Series championships.
1. Casey Stengel
No one was better. He led the Bronx Bombers to 7 World Titles and 10 pennants. He won more World Series than anyone (Joe McCarthy has 7 as well), and is the only manager to win five straight titles. He took over a good Yankees team, one that had experienced success before him. However, he managed some of the largest egos of his time and took the Yankees from good to great.
So there you have it. Critics can dispute their necessity all they want, but you’ll never convince me the teams these five men managed would have had the same success without them.
Now back to the man that spawned this discussion. Dick Williams lived a long life and he will be missed.
Dick Williams – May 7, 1929 to July 7, 2011